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Bits and Bobs: Acoustic April

May 7, 2015

Bits and Bobs: Acoustic April

1. “Winter is for Kierkegaard” – Tyler Lyle. There are few things that get me more than a earnest tenor singing way too many words over a folky arrangement. Lyle plays somewhere between Josh Ritter, The Tallest Man on Earth, and Gregory Alan Isakov.

2. “Resolution” – Young Legs. The world always needs more quirky, delightful indie-pop on a strummed banjo.

3. “The Fall” – Reina del Cid. Warm, fingerpicked acoustic guitar; brushed snare; stand-up bass; contented alto vocals–it sounds like all the bits and bobs of a country song, but del Cid turns it into a charming folky ballad.

4. “Forever for Sure” – Laura & Greg. The gentle, easy-going guitar and male/female vocals create an intimate vibe, while a mournful instrument in the distance creates a sense of spaciousness. The strings glue them together–the whole thing comes off beautifully. I’ve likened them to the Weepies before, but this one also has a Mates of State vibe.

5. “Touch the Ground” – The Chordaes. Dour Brit-pop verses, sky-high falsetto in the sunshiny, hooky chorus–the band’s covering all their bases on the pop spectrum. That chorus is one to hum.

6. “Inside Out” – Avalanche City. My favorite Kiwis return not with an Antlers-esque, downtempo, white-boy-soul song. It’s not exactly the chipper acoustic pop of previous, but it’s still infectiously catchy.

7. “Bad Timing” – The Phatapillars. If Jack Johnson’s muse was outdoor camping and music festivals instead of surfing, he could have ended up like this. For fans of Dispatch and old-school Guster.

8. “Tapes” – The Weather Station. Sometimes trying to describe beauty diminishes it. Let this song just drift you away.

9. “ Forest of Dreams” – Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands. The Decemberists have largely gone standard with their arrangements, but there are still people holding it down for klezmer arrangements of gypsy-influenced melodies mashed up with the occasional operatic vocal performance. It’s like a madcap Beirut or a female-fronted Gogol Bordello.

10. “Heavy Star Movin’ – The Silver Lake Chorus. Written by the Flaming Lips for the choir (which operates in a very Polyphonic Spree-like manner), it’s appropriately cosmic and trippy. Strings accompany, but nothing else–the vocals are the focus here.

11. “Emma Jean” – WolfCryer. Here’s Matt Baumann doing what he’s great at: playing the storytelling troubadour with an acoustic guitar and a world-weary baritone.

Emily Hearn’s vocals captivate on Hourglass

March 13, 2015

emilyhearn

Emily Hearn‘s Hourglass showcases Hearn’s clear, bright voice in a variety of genres.

Opener “Waking Up Again” is a precise-yet-earthy fingerpicked indie-folk tune reminiscent of Bowerbirds or a darker Weepies; it’s a perfect vehicle for Hearn’s warm, comfortable, unaffected alto. The arrangement and her voice mesh perfectly, creating one of my favorite songs of the year so far. It’s a mature, assured track that kicks the album off in the best way possible. It may be the biggest hill on the rollercoaster in terms of excitement, but it’s not the only exciting twist and turn Hourglass has in store.

“Can’t Help Myself” is an old-school pop song built on a plunked piano and breezy vibes; “The Oak Tree” features a dramatic alt-country vocal line that’s inflected with elements of modern singer/songwriter arrangements–note the motifs playing in the background of the chorus, a solid pop songwriting element. “Please Don’t Take My Love” starts with electronic beats before seguing into a low-slung ballad with anthemic touches (reverbed vocals!). With that, you’ve made it a third of the way through the album. (Please keep your hands inside the vehicle.)

The rest of Hourglass settles into a piano-fronted singer/songwriter vibe, from dramatic lead single “Volcano” to the gentle “Annie” to the earnest “Long Summer.” Throughout it all, Hearn’s vocals are engaging, enveloping, and compelling. Her songwriting is a strong foil–the melodies never become cloying or maudlin, and the structures seem bright and fresh. But it’s Hearn’s vocals that shine most in Hourglass. If nothing else, you must check out “Waking Up Again,” but I highly recommend the whole album.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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